Photo by Cater Yang on Unsplash
Why did you become a therapist? I sometimes want to ask co-workers and colleagues this question oftentimes. For me, in the beginning it was because I had such a positive experience with therapy, I wanted to share that experience with others. Now, as I work through my postgraduate hours and come into contact with people from different background, I have begun to understand one thing:
Many people are unhappy with themselves in some way.
There is a continuum on which we all fall. For some, there is a deep hatred of themselves and their situations. For some, they have numbed themselves to avoid feeling any pain. For others, they have never been taught how to manage their emotions and only see emotions as a burden to be carried. There are also those, who are at none of these extremes but could experience therapy in a positive light to improve their lives and wellbeing.
The lesson that I have been learning is that many people are uncomfortable with themselves and avoid looking within at all cost. No one wants to be reminded of the pain that lingers deep down. No one wants to face the things that are bothersome about ourselves. I have learnt that it takes deep courage and bravery to become the truest versions of ourselves.
I have learnt that in our technologically advanced societies, we have become less human and relational. We have become a people that hide. We have become a people that judge without compassion; we have become inauthentic and fearful. We have taken up the mantle of selfishness and have become irresponsible and unaccountable with our words and actions.
We no longer know ourselves
Therapy then provides a place to unmask ourselves. It provides one of the last remaining places in our society that encourages us to peel back the layers and expose our true spirits, our true faces; Therapy implores us to explore the honesty that lies beneath, to remove the daily masks of anger, self-preservation, and false selves to begin the journey that we were all placed on this planet for, the journey of being our most authentic selves.
Why Do We Need Therapists?
Clinicians know that we often act as sounding boards for our clients. In a world that is filled with noise from every direction, many people have become so distracted and busy, that it is now commonplace to be out of touch with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is quite easy in today’s world to spend days rushing around and never have a moment to check in with one’s self to regulate and to self-care. Hence, why self-care has become such a trending topic. At minimum, therapy provides five basic benefits.
- The first benefit that therapy provides is the freedom to be quiet; the freedom to hear one’s thoughts and to step away from the unceasing noise.
- A second benefit is the listening ear that is free from judgments, critiques, and shame.
- A third benefit is the chance to focus on one’s self; without the need for feeling selfish but understanding that focusing on the self can be transcendent.
- Fourth, therapy provides freedom of self-exploration; it provides the chance to explore thoughts, feelings, goals, and imagination without the need for justification. It’s a chance to explore and truly delve into one’s self.
- Lastly, therapy helps to put things in perspectives; with deep and consistent work, therapy allows clients to heal their past, take control of their present, and manage their futures.
Therapy provide interesting lenses through which to view life. As therapists, we interact with clients from all areas and walks of life, with varying value and beliefs systems, and oftentimes with embedded memories and experiences that have often shaped their lives, some of which, are unknown to clients. But I find that clinicians sometimes forget that we are no different from the clients we see. We are first and foremost humans and walk into each session a host of human experiences that have shaped us.
So, therapy is relational. Clients get to experience themselves against a nonjudgmental backdrop that can be revolutionary and life-changing. For therapists, we experience human relationships in ways many people never get the chance to. We see glimpses of ourselves that we may never experience outside of the therapeutic alliance. I sometimes feel that for each client that we experience an honest and true interaction with, there is a small part of us that is left with that client. To be truly authentic in our sessions, I do not think that we can close ourselves off to the therapeutic experience. Yes, we may not be sharing all our emotional stories in the sessions as we are not the focus, but I think we all have emotional experiences with various clients that teach us something new about ourselves. Isn’t that the true goal of life?
To develop deep and honest human connections?
Growth as a Therapist
During the many introductions at conferences, workshops, and trainings, I find that many people described their calling for therapy along the lines of being good listeners, good problem solvers, great confidants, and being patient individuals. I have never been sure where I fit in with this group but I’ve just always know that I wanted people to experience the kind of peace and silence that is not experienced in many other places. In our personal lives, we are at the receiving end of everyone’s judgments about appropriate food, dress, behavior, career, and relationships, and everything else. People give advice based on their own judgments and perceptions about any given situation. I now find that many people expect therapists to advise them on their decisions, and some, are profoundly unhappy when they have to redefine their expectations of what therapy is.
As I continue on my journey in this profession, I hope to find a balance between providing a healthy and receptive experience for my clients. I’d like to continue to have rich and fulfilling therapeutic experiences that serve my clients and allow them to experience themselves in new ways. I’d like to reach out to areas and populations with little service who have yet to discover the changes that therapy can bring in their lives. I’d like to build my skills and be courageous in trying new theories, approaches, and treatments, instead of giving into fear and staying within my comfort zone. The most constant thing in life is change, so, I look forward to watching as the profession and field unfolds in response to the changes in the society that we serve.
I’d like to leave the profession a little better than I found it. I would like to encourage newcomers to take up the mantle and to advocate for the field in ways not yet found in order to keep the profession moving forward.
Charmaine Perry is a counselor who works mostly with adults and couples in central New Jersey. Her passion is mental health and writing and finding ways to incorporate these two fields to advocate for mental health services for African and Caribbean Americans.